Caught In The Middle

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I am not going to talk about all my mishaps in life being caught in the middle, for example my humiliating experience as a mediator. Wait a second, actually the mediation was a success, and the two battling parties eventually made peace and even managed to be socially friendly. However they both ended up disliking me. I suspected that they both thought I was a busy body of some sort.

This was me. Growing up in a family of warring parents, I had the habit of feeling it’s my fault and trying to appease at all cost. However for a long time it was quite beyond my comprehension that with such a good intention of staying out of conflicts, I could get myself caught in the middle of something so regularly. It takes years for me to eventually realize that human frictions are just normal and I don’t need to internalize them as my own inadequacy or incompetency. Just let it go and don’t engage in overthinking.

And one classic example of being caught in the middle of something, which I really didn’t want to be involved in, happened when I was in graduate school, living in an international house somewhere in Pennsylvania. Most people who lived there were graduate students from every continent except Antarctica. And one day two girls started a little squabble about a little meaningless game.

I can’t remember now why we even started this idiotic game, probably for lack of better things to do on a rainy or snowy day or something else. One girl is from Eastern Europe and let’s call her Lady E and the other girl is from Western Europe and let’s call her Lady W. This trivial game is that one person think of a historical person in his or her mind. And other people start to ask questions in order to guess who this historical person is. And five questions are allowed, after which it’s considered a guessing failure. So it’s W’s turn to come up with a historical person and she did it accordingly. And E and her faithful assistant–they somehow formed a team of two girls–guessed five times and came up with Genghis Khan. However Lady W said that’s incorrect since the correct answer was Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. Lady E and her assistant cried foul and screamed injustice–Kublai Khan is considered too tricky and too devious for a casual game.

W promptly looked to me to back her up. I am half Mongolian and obviously W thought I should consider Kublai Khan a worthy historical celebrity to be included in the game. I looked around at other people in the living room, one from Peru, one from Nigeria, one from Malaysia, one from Sri Lanka. None of them had any interest in the game. I was the only one who’s so eager to learn English that I would jump into anything.

As I was considering a best reply that would not offend anybody, W and E started to trade polite barbs. W and E didn’t like each other and to this day I still don’t understand why. And somehow I sensed a strange dynamic, which often happens among housemates, if I befriended W, E would not be happy and if I befriended E, W would object. So I tried my best to keep my distance from both.

I attempted to do a historical clarification for Kublai Khan, for whom Samuel Taylor Coleridge completely misunderstood and misrepresented in his poem. Actually Coleridge described Kublai Khan according to stereotypes of a despot and a pleasure seeker rolled into one that people often imagine what an Asian king is supposed to be.

Knowing that most people who know Kublai Khan through the poem “Kublai Khan” that Coleridge mis-wrote, I tried to explain that Kublai Khan was a victim of his mother’s ambition. His mother, Sorghaghtani Beki, is the daughter-in-law of Genghis Khan and a fervent believer of a branch of Christianity called Nestorianism. Whatever his mother had done for him, Kublai couldn’t feel a shred of gratitude since hated wars and politics, but the Mongol Empire was structured for war and expansion. Even if he disliked wars, his ministers and generals continued their invasion of Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Burmar. To cope with the controversy of his life, he started to binge eating and drinking, eventually growing to be quite fat. He had no interest in palaces even if huge palaces were built. He preferred a traditional Mongolian tent and found every opportunity to go away from his palace. It is said he organized many hunting parties, but that’s just an excuse. He wanted to get away. Unfortunately people don’t know or don’t care who he really was.

I was trying to explain all these, but W and E had no interest in the real Kublai Khan. They soon veered their attention to more modern interests and stopped listening to me.

12 thoughts on “Caught In The Middle

    1. He was a figure of contradiction. He didn’t even know what his religion is since different religious groups tried to influence him left and right; he was indolent but was forced to keep up the facade of being a warrior; he loved to live in his tents, but was forced to stay in his palace… He was a figure in Marco Polo’s journey, although some people say the two never really met.

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  1. I actually thought Kublai Khan was fictional, but now I know more than the average person who read that misleading poem. And honestly, I don’t think one can blame Kublai Khan. Sometimes, out is the best thing to do, especially if it involves other people!

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  2. I thought of a line from a song that came out when I was a young teen (maybe before). “…Clowns to the left of me
    Jokers to the right
    Here I am
    Stuck in the middle with you…”

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  3. I knew nothing about Kublai Khan other than what Coleridge told me, so that was very informative. I think some people (eg yourself) are natural neutral observers. Other people (eg W and E) get totally sucked into things and see no virtue in neutrality. I’ve been in similar situations to you all my life.

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    1. That’s exactly what I want to say. I don’t feel arguing about a trivial game, but I guess I don’t see the importance of it. Actually sometimes my neutrality would enrage both parties…

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